Ah, sitting an exam. A lovely experience, isn’t it? That nervous walk into the vast, chilly hall. Those slightly-too-bright lights beaming down into your sleep-deprived eyes. The clock on the wall staring menacingly at you, ready to magically speed up around halfway through the exam.
I remember my GCSE days with such fondness.
Unfortunately, most people don’t enjoy the pressure and intensity of exams as much as I did. So in the hope of alleviating some of the stress, as an experienced English teacher and exam marker I’m going to share some of my top tips and tricks for successfully tackling your English exams.
#1 Read the Questions. No, Seriously.
This first one sounds pretty obvious, right? However, you’d be surprised how many marks are lost every year because students haven’t paid enough attention to what a question is asking them to do. You can write the most insightful, intelligently argued answer, but if it isn’t accurately responding to the question, you won’t get any marks for it. Highlight the key information in a question before beginning to write your answer.
#2 Mind your Marks
You wouldn’t spend £20 on something that had a price tag of £10, would you? Equally, you don’t want to spend more time on a question than it’s worth. Questions have their own version of a price tag in little brackets on the right-hand side – the marks available for it. You can work out how long to spend per mark by dividing the number of minutes you’re given to complete the exam (minus time for reading texts), by the total number of marks available. Set yourself boundaries for how long to spend on each question.
#3 (Language paper 1) Read ‘Actively’ to Save Time
This is a simple technique for Language paper 1 which will save you that most precious of commodities when sitting an exam – time. Before reading the text, you’ll be analysing for section A, read the first two questions and highlight what you’re being asked to focus on. Then, as you read through the text, highlight anything that relates to the focus of questions 1 and 2. Every little helps.
#4 Structure Your Paragraphs…
PEE. PEA. PETER. No doubt you’ve been taught one or more of these acronyms to help you remember how to structure your paragraphs for reading questions. As formulaic and boring as they might begin to feel after writing so many of them since the start of Year 10, exam boards like AQA and Edexcel love them, so make sure you’re using whichever of them you feel most familiar with in the exam.
#5 … and Get Better at Talking About the Effect on the Reader
Following on from #4, students are usually more comfortable making points, and finding evidence to support those points, than they are analysing the effects of a writer’s choices. If you’re looking to get into the higher-mark brackets, this is the part of your answer that needs to be the most sophisticated. You’ll need to work on your critical thinking/ deeper-level analysis skills to hit those level 7 / 8 / 9 answers.
English tutor at TuitionWorks
Hi, my name’s Paul. I’m 40 and have lived in Greater Manchester my whole life.
As a fully qualified English teacher up to GCSE level, I’m passionate about education and helping young people to develop, both academically and as human beings.
I’ve been an English teacher since 2019 and begun to tutor the subject 3 years prior.